Eric Sun and Edward Cui perform with the KSO during the 2012/13 Gala Opening Concert
This year, 11 promising young musicians were given a wonderful opportunity to meet new musical challenges. In this article, we’ll learn about their thoughts on their own string studies, their approach to practice, future plans and advice to beginning students . . . and their parents!
The KSO Youth Strings mentoring program’s goal is to develop the technical and artistic skills of young musicians, and give them the opportunity to play side-by-side with professional musicians during weekly rehearsals, as well as during concerts. The Kindred Spirits Orchestra accepts young string musicians who are 18 years old or younger on an ongoing basis.
Now let’s hear from some of the most enthusiastic young strings students in the GTA!
KSO News: At what age did you first begin to play your instrument and what drew you to the violin?
Edward Cui: I started to play the violin at the age of 8. My parents first suggested this opportunity and I saw improvement, so I continued to play the violin.
KN: You mention your parents first chose the violin for you. Do you come from a musical family?
EC: I do not come from a family with musical background. None of my close relatives have played any instruments. However, I began to be interested in playing the violin after I had seen and heard a few of my older friends play. I knew of many of my peers who played the piano, but the violin seemed unique to me because I didn’t know of many who played it at that time.
KN: Is there a professional career in your future?
EC: I am still not sure specifically what I might do with my musical talents in the future. Although I may not take a musical career path, I hope to make my skills useful in different ways. Perhaps I may use these skills to serve in worship at my church.
I think that I may use my skills to make some money later on by teaching a few students, but I don’t think that this will be for long term however. This could be a way for me to have work experience when I’m still in school. I am still not quite clear with my musical future. Music could potentially be a great source of relaxation and enjoyment later on even though this may not be my career.
KN: How did you hear about the String Mentorship Program at KSO?
EC: There were auditions to get in the program last year so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to experience how it is to perform with skilled musicians and to make the skills I have learned useful by taking part.
KN: How has the program helped you develop as a musician?
EC: Something that I have learned through playing in the orchestra is that everyone plays an important role in the overall performance effect. Everyone must perform well in order for the music to sound good. This has been something to hold me accountable to my practice.
KN: What is your approach to practice?
EC: Practicing an instrument is definitely challenging. There are lots of times when I want to avoid practicing because of the hard work and time I would have to put in. On the other hand, there are also days when I really enjoy the music I am making. When I don’t feel like practicing, I often think to myself that every bit of effort I put in will pay off in various ways later on. Something that keeps me working is the fact that my technique could drop if I do not keep pushing.
KN: What advice would you give to a beginning strings student?
EC: Something that I think is crucial to successfully mastering an instrument is to enjoy the music you are making. This is a huge intrinsic motivation even when things get tough.
KN: What would be your advice to parents?
EC: I would advise the parent that it is very important that the student must be interested themselves in the instrument, rather than being forced to do something they would not want to invest time and effort into.
KN: Hi Nelson, we are doing a piece on the Strings Mentorship program and wondered if you could tell us how you got started playing the violin?
EL: I started violin at the age of 14 (grade 9). This was when I was studying music in high school; there are so many amazing pieces for the violin and just hoped to play them one day.
KN: Is your family musical?
EL: I wouldn’t consider myself as coming from a musical family, however my mother knows how to play the piano. I actually played piano when I was younger but soon gave up after my RCM grade 8.
KN: What are your musical goals?
EL: My personal goal to play the big concerti, namely Shostakovich, Sibelius, Brahms, and Beethoven albeit I have a long ways to go. I make smaller goals that are achievable now to put me on the path to my bigger goals.
KN: What amazing, ambitious goals! It sounds as if you are planning on a professional music career.
EL: I have not yet decided if I want to pursue music as a profession but it still is an option. Teaching is also an option but I’ve been a teaching assistant and know how frustrating teaching can be so that is undecided. Music will definitely still be an important interest. Since I am not going to major in music in university, I will still do my best to have time to put in lots of practise and improve.
KN: What is your approach to practicing?
EL: I have some mixed feelings with practicing. Practicing can sometimes be fun, and sometimes not fun. Different pieces/ scales/ studies give me different motivations. For instance, as much as I hate practicing technical abilities, I try to squeeze at least 2 scales a day and focus primarily on them. Practicing on my “off” days can be tough. I try to do at least 2 scales a day even if it just means 30 minutes. If practicing really is not working out, I find it best to take a rest, listen to music, sometimes maybe the piece(s) I’m working on.
KN: If a beginner were to ask your advice, what would you say?
EL: Practise slowly! Don’t rush stuff but definitely push yourself. If you know you can’t do it, slow it down! Especially when your teacher says you can’t do it yet, they’re most likely right (with some exceptions). There will be people who can do it right off the bat but you really need to know what is going on before you go faster: every movement, every note, every rhythm. Also, please listen to your teacher. A good relationship between teacher and student always helps. Work intelligently, not harder.
Remember it takes time to get something right. Have patience when you practise. Also, learning an instrument will teach many life skills you cannot acquire anywhere else. Have fun! Things can get tough. People will expect a lot from people playing an instrument well. You may often find frustration in your practising but keep yourself relaxed. Have a break once in a while. Good luck.
KN: What about their parents? I’m sure there are parents out there reading and thinking “I wish my kids would practice like that!”
EL: Forcing your child(ren) to play music is not the way to go and it most certainly won’t work if you keep nagging them; they just won’t learn that way. 90% of the motivation must come from the beginner. The other 10% is your responsibility to get them interested and boost their motivation. I find that when I start to lose motivation, I go listen to a concert of interest. Children tend to go listen to pop concerts which can go to prices of $100 but TSOundcheck tickets are only $14, so it’s not out of the question to listen to concerts. Also, respect the teacher’s decisions. They are usually right because they know the playing ability of the student. Learning an instrument, especially for strings, is high maintenance. Don’t hesitate to do some research on the costs of maintaining an instrument beforehand so it doesn’t come as a shock when your child asks to buy things. This isn’t to discourage you or telling you to spend a fortune, but it can get quite expensive. Lastly, the key to your child’s success in playing an instrument is to have the right equipment. I know instruments and lessons can get expensive but with a good teacher who actually cares for the student, a student who is willing to learn, and a somewhat decent instrument, the beginner will definitely succeed!
KN: Hi Yiyang, can you tell us how long you have been playing violin?
YG: I first began to play violin when I’m 5 years old. My kindergarten organized students to learn violin, then I continued playing this instrument after kindergarten until now.
KN: How wonderful to have a strings program in a kindergarten! Is your family musical?
YG: I’m not coming from a musical family, I first got to learn the violin in kindergarten, I thought it was kind of interesting and I like it, so I continued learning violin now.
KN: It sounds like you found a fit early. What are your musical goals currently?
YG: My personal goal as a young musician is to find more opportunity to perform and simply to keep practicing violin in the future and improve.
KN: Have you thought about music as a profession?
YG: I don’t really aspire to a professional musician or music teaching career. Playing the violin is more of a hobby and it helps me to relax. Maybe I’ll teach some day for a part time job. Music is an important interest to me now, and I’m pretty sure that it will continue to be an important interest in the future.
KN: How has the KSO program helped you?
YG: Kindred Spirits Strings mentoring program gives young musicians like me a chance to play with professional musicians and to improve our skills in the orchestra. It also gives us a chance to build up performance experience. It helps me know the importance of cooperation in an orchestra. It gives me valuable experiences of performing as part of a team. It helps me to develop my skill by practicing more master pieces and getting more hearing experiences.
KN: What is your approach to practice?
YG: I enjoy practicing with the orchestra. I know that in an orchestra, teamwork is very important, that’s the reason I practice at home to be a good teamplayer with the orchestra.
I started to practice the violin at the age of 5. In the 9 years of practicing, sometimes I enjoy playing this instrument but sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I feel bored to keep practicing one music piece for a very long time. I got really whiny when I was practicing But I still didn’t give up this instrument. Joining Kindred Spirits Orchestra makes me feel more interested in violin and helps me enjoy my playing more.
KN: That is a very astute point about cooperation and teamwork! What would you advise a beginner?
YG: If I was speaking to a beginning strings student, I would advise them not to give up practicing their instruments. Although the practicing processes may be hard, but the results worth the hard works. When you’re playing a completed music piece, you’ll definitely enjoy yourself and feel proud of your improvement.
KN: If a parent were to say to you, “how do I ecourage my child to play like you?” what would you say?
YG: My parents supported me to practice the violin. To encourage a beginner, you can give them some advice from an audience’s point of view. Don’t pressure them too much cause that may eliminate their interests of playing this instrument, give them some commends so they will get more interested in their instruments.
KN: David, how did you come to start playing violin and what are your plans for developing your talent?
DH: I started playing when I was 4, and I was just fascinated by the violin. I did not come from a music family, but the kindergarten I went to was hosted by a famous musical academy, so I was lucky to be able to learn violin very young. My goal is just to play and enjoy music while becoming better at it, I really don’t have the goal of a professional career, well, most likely not. Music is still an important interest but it has nothing to do with my career.
KN: How did you find out about the KSO Strings Mentorship program?
DH: My teacher encouraged me to audition for the program and to join KSO. The orchestra itself plays a lot of amazing pieces, while I get to play in the orchestra, it is a good experience.
KN: What is your approach to practice?
DH: I don’t like or dislike practicing. I actually usually I only do practice when I feel like it, or when I actually can’t play the piece well.
KN: What would you tell beginners and their parents?
DH: Personally I think having the passion for your instrument and practicing a lot is the key to success. There’s no magic formula. Parents encourage kids most by taking the time to listen to them and ask about what they are playing and to tell them when it sounds nice. They need to demonstrate their interest.